Late in Ball Four, Jim Bouton’s iconic book about his 1969 journey to remake himself as a knuckleball pitcher, Bouton finds himself traded from an expansion team that never was comfortable with his new pitch to a pennant contender that suddenly thrust him into a start. Bouton went out and pitched ten innings, only to lose a heartbreaker as a result of a couple of fluke hits.
Alone, in the wee small hours of the morning, back in his hotel room after the loss, you might have expected Bouton to be crushed by the experience. Instead, he felt nothing but joy and elation. His belief in his course of action to remake his career was validated and that, for him, overcame any sadness over the immediate outcome.
I imagine that’s something of what Kirby Smart feels this morning. Certainly I feel something of that.
Yeah, the way things ended last night stings. But consider this: in its last two games of the season, Georgia took the best offensive team in college football, fronted by the Heisman Trophy winner, to overtime, won, and then, a week later, took the best defensive team in college football to overtime and barely lost. I can’t think of too many football programs that could have shown as well. Certainly that’s not something I would have expected from this team before the season started.
In the end, Alabama was the better team and my hat’s off to Nick Saban for that. The reason his team was better was because of more depth — how many teams could bench a starting quarterback with a 25-2 record and get away with that? — and because it was in a setting with which it had far greater familiarity than Georgia did. Those are both correctable shortcomings, if you’re Kirby Smart.
Just keep chopping.